Canadian fisherman Joe Howlett, 59, was struck and killed by a whale he had freed from an entanglement on Monday, July 10.
“They got the whale totally disentangled, and then some kind of freak thing happened and the whale made a big flip,” Mackie Green told the Canadian Press.
Howlett was an experienced scallop and lobster fisherman and longtime member of the Campobello Whale Rescue Team in New Brunswick. He and Green founded the organization in 2002 to aid whales struck by ships or entangled in gear.
“He is a very knowledgeable fisherman, and who better to do disentanglements than a fisherman who knows the knots and the ropes and the gear?” Green added. “He’s going to be sorely missed by the community, and he was an integral part of a very unique group of fishermen here on the island who were involved in doing the disentanglements.”
Howlett reportedly rescued 24 whales in 15 years, including one just days earlier.
“He was very committed to this and he was very concerned about the state of the oceans,” Jerry Conway of the Canadian Whale Institute on the island told the Canadian Press.
Seven right whale carcasses have been found in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in the last month. Analysis shows that two suffered injuries consistent with ship strikes and one with gear entanglement.
The Campobello rescue team is part of the Atlantic Large Whale Disentanglement Network. The network’s partners include fisheries agencies from Florida to the Canadian Maritimes.
Chris Oliver, recently appointed assistant administrator of NMFS, extended condolences Wednesday to the family of Howlett, according to the National Post.
He also announced that NOAA would halt efforts to free large whales entangled in fishing gear for the time being.
“Because ensuring the safety of responders is of paramount importance, NOAA Fisheries is suspending all large whale entanglement response activities nationally until further notice, in order to review our own emergency response protocols,” Oliver said in a statement. “Members of the general public should never attempt to rescue a stranded or entangled marine animal.”